Post-season accolades continue for third-in-nation Bronco volleyball

NMMI Sports Press

The record-breaking year for the Bronco volleyball team continues even after the successful season wrapped up with a third-place finish at the NJCAA National Championship tournament.

For the first time ever, the NMMI team had two players picked as NJCAA DI All-Americans, a player selected to the American Volleyball Coaches Association All American team, and a coach named as the AVCA Two-Year College Assistant Coach of the Year.

Karen “Paola” Rivera-Herrera and Hannah Davis were the tandem tapped for the NJCAA All-American award; Rivera-Herrera as the AVCA All-American; and assistant coach Alonso Ibarra garnered the Coach of the Year award.

Ibarra was nominated by head coach Shelby Forchtner, who said the award was especially sweet because most honorees come from the team that wins the national title.

“Most assistant coaches get it if their team wins a national championship. That happens a lot,” she said. “So I’m really excited he got it because he only has two years of work here at NMMI, and we’ve been very successful in both of those years.”

The honor came for the El Paso native despite having to coach at nationals in a cast after Achilles tendon surgery.

“That definitely didn’t stop me from doing what I love,” he laughed. “In the videos from our national tournament you still saw me hopping around. I was just trying to do my thing: get excited, throw my fist pumps when I get a chance to do it, still give it my 100 percent – because these girls deserve how far we got and I just wanted to be there for them.”

Ibarra came to the Institute from the University of Texas at El Paso in 2016, and immediately began making a difference.

“I think he’s very deserving of the award,” Forchtner said. “He does a lot of work and he puts a lot of time in, especially as far as the kids individually. He’s a well-rounded coach – does a lot of good things defensively and offensively, and that’s a really good tool.”

“I’m really honored to get the award,” Ibarra said. “It feels really good when someone puts you in a position of being nominated for a big award and receiving it.”

Ibarra is bilingual, which helps both in recruiting and translating for Spanish-speaking players. And while the assistant downplayed what he does — giving the players the credit for all the team’s success — Forchtner said it’s Ibarra’s skills as a “people person” that help him the most.

“It’s just great having somebody who enjoys the game of volleyball as much as I do,” continued Forchtner. “I think he’s a good buffer for my personality sometimes, and I think the kids really enjoy being around him.”

The All-American honors were equally special, since NMMI has never earned more than one NJCAA award in a season. Herrera-Rivera and Davis were part of a trio of unanimous nominees from the WJCAC conference, two of only 30 players from the entire NJCAA Division I to be named to the All-American squad.

Yet Forchtner thought others on the No. 3-finishing Broncos were deserving as well, noting it was really hard to choose who to nominate.

“This year, with this team and the balance and the dynamic that we had, obviously we could have had two more people up there,” she said. “McKayla Landreth is just as talented, and Karime (Raygoza), our little freshman, does some really, really good stuff out there as well. Hannah and Paola just set themselves apart statistically throughout the entire season, carrying a little bit higher percentage weight in terms of overall stats.”

Davis, a 6-foot-1 sophomore from Utah, was the kill leader for the Broncos, tallying 363 kills in 42 matches, good for 25th in nation. She was second on the squad in total blocks with 132, placing her at No. 17 nationally. She also added 34 service aces.

“We love that she could shut down people on the right side, blocking other outside hitters,” Forchtner said. “She did a great job for us offensively and she’s also a great server. Hannah is just a very well-rounded package and I honestly believe she’s going to go to a great Division I or Division II program and be very successful there, because she still has a really good ceiling ahead of her.”

Davis was happy and excited to earn the honor.

““I am honored and humbled to receive such an awesome award. I just felt like it all paid off, all the hard work I’d put in for volleyball and in the corps and in the classroom,” she said.

“I spent a lot of extra time writing down what I needed to work on,” Davis said. “After practices, I’d write down things I needed to do more of and things I needed to do less of. You always need to have a mental note of what you need to work on every day and keeping a constant track of everything, rather than just going into the gym and going through the motions, helped.”

“Hannah is competitive,” Forchtner said. “She’s dynamic. She’s a workaholic. She not a kid who just likes the gym and likes volleyball, she likes the weight room. She likes to run. She’s just a total package in terms of NMMI and everything she’s done here. She’s great in the corps. Rarely gets in trouble. She’s great in the classroom. Her teachers love her. She’s a phenomenal teammate. There’s not anybody on our team who does not like Hannah.”

But Davis also credited her teammates, especially for that big kill number.

“By far my favorite thing about volleyball is just getting an amazing kill right after getting a good pass,” she said. “Because there’s no way you can get an amazing kill unless you get an amazing pass from the passer and an amazing set. It just all comes together. It’s just money.”

Davis is still keeping her options open regarding her next step. She’s talking with four-year schools across the country, where she’ll both play and study biology and health sciences. And whatever happens, she says she owes it all to Forchtner and Ibarra.

“I would thank my coaches for getting me here where I am,” she said. “They definitely pushed me past my limits and made me a better athlete and student. They’re always raising the bar high for me. I’m never comfortable staying at a certain level. They’re always making me want to be more and more hungry, so I’m always striving to be better every day.”

With five repeat All-Americans on the NJCAA list this year, freshman Rivera-Herrera could be the first Bronco to earn double honors next year. She is the first NMMI volleyball player to earn an AVCA award, which is chosen from all junior college players at all levels, including the NJCAA, California Community College Athletic Association, Florida College System Activities Association and all independents. She is one of 47 players receiving that award.

This year, she played in every match, racking up 283 kills, 744 assists, and 414 digs. Her 72 service aces on the season was good for third in the nation.

“Paola is a great kid for us because she does everything well,” Forchtner said. “She’s our best server. She’s our best defender. She’s one of our best passers in serve-receive. She is our best setter and she’s is one of the top three swings on our team. So when you are that good at everything, it’s really hard to take her off the floor.”

Yet the coach was not even certain she’d be able to sign the Juarez player.

Forchtner watched Rivera-Herrera play on El Paso club teams as a high-school freshman, sophomore and junior, and was convinced Rivera-Herrera would be grabbed up by a four-year institution. But Rivera-Herrera didn’t play her senior year, and didn’t take the needed tests to get into an NCAA school.

“We got lucky being able to get a kid like that that nobody was able to get at the Division I level, which is where she obviously belongs.”

And even as a college freshman, Rivera-Herrera brought intangibles to the team.

“She brings a dynamic to our team that is kind of effortless,” Forchtner said. “She’s smooth and very controlled in all her movements, and also very calm under pressure. It doesn’t matter what the score is, she’s going to figure out a way to win in the end.”

Replying by text since she had already completed her semester final exams and was travelling back home for the holiday break, Rivera-Herrera said he was “extremely happy” to receive the honor.

“This award is huge to me, coming from Mexico. Receiving this award in the United States is fantastic,” she said.

She credited the Institute with giving her the chance to attend college, and vowed to continue the effort next season.

“I will continue to work hard and train to prepare myself to be a better player and I know all of this is possible by the amount of support that I have received from NMMI,” she said.

And Forchtner said Rivera-Herrera will definitely get a chance to play at a higher level when she leaves the Institute after next season.

“She’s just a phenomenal kid and does some really good things for us.”

After the holiday break, the Bronco off-season begins, with cadets reporting back Jan. 4. Coach Forchtner and Ibarra will be working hard getting them ready for next season, along with hitting the recruiting trail to sign up new talent to fill in the holes left by graduating sophomores.

With some luck and a whole lot of hard work, we’ll likely see NMMI back at the NJCAA National Championships for the third-straight year in a row.

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